Kathleen Parker

Indeed. Giving Biden the benefit of the doubt, one could legitimately wonder, where else?

Watching politicians play redneck is always embarrassing. Whether it's dropping in on NASCAR, saying ``y'all,'' or confessing one's love for Randy Travis (but not the Dixie Chicks), that dog don't hunt.

During the last presidential race, for instance, John Kerry went goose-hunting in Ohio to demonstrate his good ol' boy-ness -- but blew the hoped-for effect by wearing brand-new camos. Not done.

With Biden's wince-inducing mention of slavery as a way to establish his Southern bona fides, I think we can safely say that politics has finally jumped the shark, tipped the point and perfected the storm.

Bubba is now a cliche of a cliche of a cliche.

Of course no one seriously thinks that Biden was touting slavery. More likely he was trying to say something friendly to his audience, as in: ``I may be from a state north of here, but I love South Carolina, and I'll say any fool thing to get your vote.''

That the audience responded favorably is neither surprising, nor necessarily promising. Southerners are relentlessly polite, and Biden -- despite his ill-chosen words -- is charming.

The problem when you're running for leader of the free world, however, is that charm isn't enough. You have to get the words right. President Bush has ended for all time any notion that choosing -- or inventing -- the wrong word is a quaint idiosyncrasy.

Words matter.

What also matters -- not just to Southerners -- is authenticity. There's no surer way to lose the public's confidence than to pretend to be something you're not. The real McCoy can always spot a decoy.

And a political fake is a dead duck.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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